TAKE 5: Education cuts worry longtime Lee educator

Aug. 03, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

This week, we Take 5 with Lee County native Lisa Bowling Wishart, a 26-year teaching veteran, about the education budget approved by the N.C. General Assembly and her thoughts about changes in the teaching profession. Wishart, who teaches kindergarten at Broadway Elementary School, was Lee County’s “Teacher of the Year” in 2002-03 and has instructed students at 10 different grade levels in Lee (24 years) and Chatham (two years) counties. She has a master’s degree in education, as well as her principal’s certificate, and has served as a presenter at conferences all over North Carolina. Wishart has served on numerous state-level education committees, including the N.C. State Superintendent’s Ethics Advisory Board, since 2004. She  and her husband, attorney Frank Wishart, have two sons, Frank and Robert.

As a 26-year veteran of public education, what was your response to the education budget approved by the N. C. General Assembly? What do people need to understand about the budget, and how do you think it will impact schools and teachers?

As a teacher, I am extremely worried about the impact the budget will have on our schools. Teachers are by nature passionate about what they do, but after years of cuts to everything from people to paper, the latest budget cuts hurt the most.

Class size is one of our main worries. We teach students on many different academic levels, with challenges as well as gifts. Five thousand teaching jobs have been cut in North Carolina. That means fewer teachers to teach more children, as enrollment has increased in North Carolina and class-size caps have been removed. Will we be able to meet all their individual needs with a class of 30-plus students? Are we going to still be able to give our children the extra help and encouragement they need?

Teacher assistants and instructional staff work with students who need extra help understanding what is being taught in reading and math. They give students the additional attention and time to learn that they so desperately need while the teacher works with small groups teaching reading and math. Four thousand teacher assistant jobs have been eliminated statewide with the budget cuts. Without their valuable help, will all students’ individual needs be met?

Instructional materials and school supplies are essential to helping our students learn. The budget for these items has been slashed by $120 million statewide.

We already spend hundreds of dollars a year on our classrooms because we want our students to have what they need to learn. Since there have been no cost-of-living increases in five years and we will no longer be paid for our advanced degrees in teaching (which help us be more effective in the classroom), will we even be able to afford to buy resources for our classrooms?

And how, ultimately, will it impact our students?

The young people will suffer the most with the loss of individualized attention and one-on-one instruction if larger class sizes and fewer staff to help them come to pass. We have the utmost confidence that Dr. Andy Bryan and the members of the Lee County School Board will do everything in their power to ensure that students have the very best education possible, even with the budget constraints, and to protect the classrooms come what may.

Most teachers say they’re “not in it for the money,” but rather for the love of children and teaching. But tax money funds public schools, and you can do more with it than without it. What are your thoughts about public education and funding, and the relationship between funding and the quality of education we can provide in North Carolina?

Investing in our future workforce through investing in education is paramount and should be common sense. If we want to lure corporations and businesses to North Carolina, we must prepare a qualified workforce from which individuals can be hired. We must provide our young people with the tools, the education and the competitive edge to become employable in this global economy. This will in turn create jobs, boost consumer spending and get our economy back on track. Education is the means by which a prosperous state is achieved. In business, they say, “It takes money to make money.” Invest in education, and the state will reap the returns of a better economy and more job creation.

How has teaching changed in the last quarter century, and what, in your opinion, needs to change in order to produce the best quality education in our schools?

When I first started teaching, education was N.C.’s priority, as well as our nation’s.

North Carolina funded education initiatives and awarded students scholarships to become teachers. North Carolina worked hard on incentives to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers. Industries, businesses, and corporations generously donated to public schools, community colleges, and universities without even being asked. Communities supported their own schools, and parent volunteers were plentiful; plus, PTO meetings were packed. Teachers were respected, admired and supported by the community, parents and their children. People took the time to care about each other, their schools and their community.

Twenty-six years later, N.C. had more money than in previous years, yet cut funding for education by half a billion dollars. Unfortunately, I fear, education is no longer a priority. The change from career status to terminating yearly contracts, the elimination of N.C. Teaching Fellows scholarships and the reduction of force of 5,000 teachers and 4,000 reading assistants sends the sad message that education is not valued in North Carolina and that teachers are not respected as professionals.

Many highly qualified N.C. teachers are being recruited by other states. This is not unusual, but what is different is that many are accepting positions in neighboring states just to make ends meet and to support their families. N.C. ranks 48th out of 50 states in teacher salaries. What this means is that highly qualified teachers can accept the same type of teaching job in 47 other states and make significantly more money. Some would say let them go elsewhere, but I wonder who will be left to teach our children and will they be highly qualified to do so? It’s about getting the best education possible.

If you were state superintendent for a day, what would you do?

I would gather a diverse group of young public school students from across the state and take them to meet with Gov. Pat McCrory, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis to discuss what ideas they have for making schools even better and how the budget will affect their education. Their honest insight is just what is needed to give the candid perspective untainted by money and unspoiled by both political parties’ agendas.

We hear a lot about “teaching to the test.” Give us your thoughts about teaching and end-of-grade testing.

Teachers should be held accountable by testing at the beginning of the year, mid-year, and at the end of the year on the same type of assessment to truly determine if students have shown mastery and to measure student growth. No one test should be used in isolation to measure student mastery of content or for promotion. Unfortunately, I fear, the reduction in the number of teachers, teacher assistants, materials and funding will greatly affect students’ learning and subsequently their test scores.

Any final thoughts that you would like to share?

We, as teachers, dedicate our lives to educating young people from Pre-K to 12th grade. While they are with us, we think of them as our children and strive to give them the very best education possible. Our dedication to your children is unwavering. Our commitment is to our young people in doing the best job possible even with limited resources and reduced personnel. We believe we hold the key to the future economic prosperity of our state through education.